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Florida should finally pass ban on texting while driving

Now that Gov. Charlie Crist has endorsed a ban on texting while driving, the Florida Legislature needs to pass a much-needed bill.

“It’s important that we do everything we can to make sure that our fellow Floridians are safe,” Crist said during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday. “The obvious danger of it is absurd.”

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Web site,
48 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 67 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds admit to texting while driving.

Julie Jones, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, also endorsed the ban. With any luck, the bill will be passed during the legislative session next year and go into effect July 1.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, more than a dozen bills were filed for next year. The ban will surely pass and Florida will join 14 other states that already ban texting.

Texting while driving is distracting and dangerous. This is a common-sense decision, yet bans have failed to pass in previous years despite growing support. A Senate bill filed in 2008 failed to make it past committee.

During this year’s legislative session, a bill to ban cell phone use while driving on state
highways, known as “Heather’s Law,” was indefinitely postponed and then withdrawn, according to flsenate.gov.

The bill was named for Heather Hurd, who was killed in a car accident involving a texting truck driver in 2008. Heather’s Law was filed again for next year.

Sen. Carey Baker, who filed two bills to ban texting while driving, said to the Times that support for a ban has been slowly building. “I think this year, something’s going to pass,” he said.

It’s about time. Cell phone distraction caused an estimated 330,000 accidents and 2,600 fatalities each year, according to a 2003 Harvard study.

Several studies have been published on the dangers of texting while driving. A road test by
Car & Driver magazine found that drivers had worse reaction times driving while texting than driving while intoxicated.

A study by the Transport Research Laboratory released last year found that texting while driving was actually riskier than drunk driving. The study found that drivers’ reaction times deteriorated by 35 percent while
texting. Those who drank alcohol at the legal limit were only 12 percent slower.

Drivers must learn to take this issue seriously, as police will not be able to stop every offender.

Legislation without education is not enough to stop distracted drivers, said Mary Ann Truffle, a safety officer for the Florida Department of Transportation.

A group of eight USF students is working on a public relations campaign for the Tampa Area Safety Council to raise awareness for the dangers of texting messaging.

It is a good sign that Crist is taking advocates of a ban seriously, as one should have been implemented years ago.